I’ve made numerous mission trips to Romania. I love worship in unfamiliar places, preaching the gospel, seeing people respond to the Good News, leading pastors, and encouraging missionaries. Yet, I also love watching shepherds. I’m amazed at the way they move a flock. With the aid of a dog and a shepherd’s staff, they move sheep across large fields and along narrow trails. On one trip, we even witnessed a momma sheep give birth (see pic below).
I’ve always said I’d go back to Romania just to spend time with shepherds. Maybe some day. These shepherd moments remind me of one of the most recognizable passages in our Bible.
Psalm 23 is intricately tied to death. I’m sure you have heard it read or recited at a funeral. Yet, when you carefully study the psalm you find it is more about life. “The Lord is my shepherd,” here and now. I love the emphasis on “my” shepherd. It speaks to devotion and commitment. The Lord’s not a shepherd but my shepherd.
David, the author of Psalm 23, was familiar with the shepherd image because he was a shepherd himself. Yet, I think we need to be helped with the image. In 1 Samuel 17:34-36 David describes his passion as a shepherd. He states that if a lion or bear attacked one of his sheep he would go after it, strike it, and take the sheep from its mouth.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The Lord is my shepherd indeed.
I want to provide you with a helpful reflection from Paul Miller’s “A Praying Life.” Let’s read Psalm 23 but remove the Good Shepherd and all he does:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake. I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
It is no accident that God calls us sheep. Sheep are notorious creatures of habit, if left to themselves they will follow the same trails until they become ruts. If you stay in a rut long enough it becomes a grave. Sheep left to themselves will graze the same hill until they turn it to desert, pollute their own ground until it is decimated with disease. Philip Keller in his classic “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” states, “No other class of livestock requires more careful handling, more detailed direction than do sheep. Without a shepherd, sheep get lost.”
May the Lord be your Shepherd here and now.